Students aren’t the only ones missing their normal daily routines right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some educators started attending school in pre-K, later graduated from high school and went to college before finding themselves right back inside school buildings daily as teachers, so missing two weeks in late March is far from normal for them as well.
“Many of my teachers have said how much they miss their students even though it’s only been a short period of time,” said Midway Hills Primary (MHP) Principal Tara Burney. “This is so hard for educators. I’m 46 years old, and I’ve been going to school for the last 41 or 42 years — from my childhood all the way up to going to college and becoming an educator. This is hard. … Working from home, this is just totally different for us. Most of us are multitaskers, so we’re used to doing more than one thing at a time.”
So when one of Burney’s teachers, first-grade instructor Mandy Hopkins, saw educators in other states create a “teacher parade” on social media so they could see their kids, the two got to planning. It all came together rather quickly as more than 20 teachers participated in the MHP teacher parade Wednesday morning. They drove through neighborhoods where their and other public school students live, waving pom-poms and showing signs with messages like, “We miss our students!”
“Mrs. Burney’s really open-minded, so anytime we want to do something she tries to make it happen,” Hopkins said. “I honestly didn’t expect to have that many teachers participate. We were pleased to have that many people show up.”
Some students who had seen the parade announced on social media were already outside eagerly waiting to see their favorite teachers. Others who may not have known about the quickly-put together event were made aware by the honking and line of more than 20 cars driving through their home neighborhoods and apartment complexes.
“I thought it was a good way for our kids to see us so they can know we care about them and that we’re still here for them,” added Hopkins, whose 24 years of teaching experience have all come in Baldwin County. “I also think it’s important for teachers see where these kids come from. It’s not like how it used to be with neighborhood schools. We don’t really see these kids in their home environment, so that was eye-opening and a good experience, I think, for every one of us. We didn’t see nearly as many kids as we wanted to, but we saw more than we would have if we had not done it.”
Wednesday’s parade wasn’t the first time during this unexpected break that the K-2 school has worked to reach kids in their homes. The Baldwin County School District’s last day before shutdown was Monday, March 16. That day was meant to set students up for the coming challenge where they would be forced to learn from home. Many parents though, were understandably wary about sending their kids to school that final day when many health officials were warning against gathering in large groups. Teachers created learning packets that were sent home with kids that Monday, which were also made available for pickup outside the school. But school transportation is very important in Baldwin County because not every parent has the means to get themselves or their children to the school on their own. Burney, who is in her second year as MHP principal, made sure those kids were not left out.
“Some parents just don't have transportation,” she said. “One mother said her truck was broken and she couldn’t afford to get it fixed right now. She asked if I could please find a way to get the packet to her. Others said similar things, so I just put my phone number out there and told them to call if they needed me to deliver. I was more than happy to do that.”
Burney said she made about 10 deliveries of the school work packets over the course of a couple days last week. That work was meant to get kids through these last two weeks before spring break. Gov. Brian Kemp mandated Thursday that public schools will remain closed through April 24, so other arrangements for distance learning are being made for after the break.
“Starting after spring break we will utilize Google Classroom,” said Burney. “Teachers are required to call at least five kids a day. They’re calling their students to ensure their joining the online classroom and checking to see if students have access to the technology. If they don’t, we’re letting them know how to get it. Teachers will record videos of themselves teaching lessons and give an assignment that goes along with that lesson. We’re trying to push for everyone to get access to technology. We know that’s going to be hard, so we’re trying to find other means to provide work for our students who don’t have access.”
“People who don’t teach might be thinking, ‘Teachers are getting an extra vacation,’ but we are working so hard,” Hopkins pointed out. “We have a regular workday. We’re up early and on the computer. We’re calling parents and helping deliver lunches. We are very much plugged in.”
Hopkins says she has spoken to all of her students since the mandated closure, but that’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
“I feel like I know what’s going on with them (her students) and they’re OK,” she said. “That helps me rest a little easier, but this is not fun by any means. I’d much rather be at school.”